When Nathaniel Abreu first started playing cello at age 5, the standard-size instrument was bigger than he was — thankfully they had smaller sizes available for children.
Born to a family of musicians, Abreu began by playing a violin like his sister, Marisol, but he didn’t care for the high sounds. Instead, he selected the deeper-sounding cello.
“Not too much thought goes into it when you’re that little, but the idea is that the sound speaks to you — and it still does,” he said.
Abreu’s dedication to his art meant the average high-school schedule wasn’t a fit for him. His parents made the decision to take him out of Somerville Public Schools and home-school him.The family turned to Middlesex Community College for its Dual Enrollment Program. Even though he is on the younger side, Abreu said Middlesex exposes him to the college learning environment — and his age doesn’t matter.
“Everyone comes from different walks of life,” he said. “It’s not unusual to have either a high-school student or someone in their 50s. It makes no difference. You’re just here to learn.”
Middlesex’s flexibility, affordability and customizable scheduling was ideal. Abreu said MCC is accommodating, well-managed and a supportive community.
The ability to earn his Associate’s Degree along with his high-school diploma also appealed to him. Abreu had enough credits to graduate from high school early, but he continued at MCC to finish his Associate’s, something that will help him at a college or conservatory, as many of the institutions will accept his time at Middlesex as two years of college.
As a Commonwealth Honors student majoring in Liberal Arts & Sciences, Abreu has enjoyed all of his courses and listed off a number of non-music classes as some of his favorites.
“It’s much more difficult to find something I didn’t like,” he said.
Some standouts include an Honors Seminar on Latin American History & Literature, English and Anthropology, a class that left such an impression on him that he recommended it to his sister, a former MCC Dual Enrollment student now at Brandeis University, which inspired her to change majors.
It was a nice experience to share classes and much of his time at MCC with his sister. While she spent her last two years of high school at Middlesex, Abreu came for his entire high-school career.
Abreu also credits his relationships with Performing Arts Professors Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta and Orlando Cela for opening up many opportunities for him.
“The Music Department here is really dedicated,” he said. “I’m just so glad that a place like MCC — that thrives in all sorts of different fields — values the arts.”
Rodriguez-Peralta has invited Abreu to perform at college fundraising events and student recitals outside of class. Abreu has performed with Cela, including at a recent concert with the Lowell Chamber Orchestra at MCC’s Academic Arts Center.
Beyond the cello, Abreu takes piano with Rodriguez-Peralta and conducted a small orchestra at Berklee College of Music with his classmates as part of Cela’s course.
“It’s fun to learn new instruments, and challenging, because you’re not used to starting from the beginning after years of going deeper into studies of one particular instrument. It’s a new feeling that is very helpful for growth,” Abreu said.
Abreu welcomes a challenge. For auditions, he is working on a piece that was once believed to be “unplayable” — Russian composer Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto.
“It’s challenging, but a great piece of music, so it’s rewarding to work very hard on it and be able to understand it more deeply,” Abreu said.
In the summer, Abreu often plays at festivals, including at the Koussevitzsky Music Shed at Tanglewood in 2016 and as part of the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program, a chamber-music festival. Abreu smiled when he said that in the barn, “the cello sounds very nice.”
This year, Abreu was awarded an honorable mention for the YoungArts Foundation, which connects him to the program’s many alumni.
Middlesex is just the starting point to Abreu achieving his dreams.
“I hope to be a performing musician,” he said. “It would definitely be a classical-music position, but I’m not sure the specifics of that — whether it be orchestra or chamber. That’s what I hope to find out in college — just make a living as a musician and do what I love to do and find my way.”
For more information on Dual Enrollment, visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/dualenroll.